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darkstar - North
Leading up to the release of their feverishly anticipated debut album for Hyperdub, Darkstar underwent some major evolutionary changes. Perhaps most signifiicantly they expanded from a production/writing duo of James Young and Aiden Whalley into a trio, now including vocalist James Buttery. This personnel change has been reflected in the music too. While previously Darkstar's sound leaned towards the fringes of dubstep, the musical profile of North is considerably more difficult to define. The genre connections remain at least partially in-check on former single 'Aidy's Girl Is A Computer' - perhaps the most immediately addictive and outwardly dancefloor-friendly cut here, thanks to a fine garagey swing - but elsewhere the band morph into a kind mutant, introspective synth-pop project, turning out sublime robotic soul on the likes of 'Deadness' and 'Dear Heartbeat'. Upcoming single 'Gold' probably tells you something about where Darkstar are setting their sights, remaking the Human League classic 'You Remind Me Of Gold' with a mulched electronic moroseness. Despite its origins, the song sounds a million miles away from any notions of rose-tinted '80s nostalgia, and as North begins to reveal itself you'll hear Darkstar encroaching upon a very fresh and modern electronic pop idiom. The stunning 'Under One Roof' is pinned together by dystopian lyrics and a production that sways woozily through soundscapes that could have been lifted from Fever Ray's debut album. Rather than resting on top of the mix, Buttery's singing is cleverly knitted into the fabric of the music: the vocals on the almost OPN-like 'Two Chords' and the beatless 'In The Way' are full of dropouts and glitches, as if they've been recklessly timestretched out of shape - the latter track makes for a particularly striking album opener, wrongfooting your expectations from the outset with an aching ballad assembled from a hybrid of cracked electronics and pseudo-classical instrumentation. Releasing an album like 'North' marks a bold move from Hyperdub, but the label has been duly rewarded with what must surely rank as one of the year's most stylistically inventive and talked about debuts.